29 Sep 2020

Call for Pacific tourism to diversify as Covid-19 cripples industry

10:38 am on 29 September 2020
Joseph Cella.

Joseph Cella. Photo: Supplied/US Embassy, Suva

Pacific nations and territories have been urged to diversify their tourism sector to meet new market demands amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Monday, tourism in the region received a boost with an economic-resilience grant of almost $US20,000 from the United States.

Accepting the donation, head of the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) Chris Cocker said the funds can help implement effective responses to the industry.

Cocker said the grant will also strengthen the islands' tourism connections with the US market.

"Through this grant funding, the SPTO and the Travel Foundation, which is an NGO, in this case, will be working collaboratively to develop a practical toolkit to help the region's SME's adapt and connect successfully with the US and other international markets."

"These businesses will be encouraged and supported to implement this knowledge through virtual workshops, and opportunities for business links."

Coker said the US assistance is timely as 95 percent of the Pacific tourism industry has been crippled by the pandemic.

US Ambassador to Nauru, Tuvalu, Tonga, Kiribati and Fiji Joseph Cella said his government aimed to promote economic growth and build a robust trade relationship with the Pacific.

Cella said the US supported local tourism organizations to overcome the economic adversities caused by the pandemic.

"To build the capacity to engage in the new reality that we're facing for tourists following this pandemic. And in the long-term, this will help get them footed for further innovation and adaptation."

Cella said the SPTO is the sixth organization to share almost $US175,000 in grants allocated to assist Pacific projects related to developing tourism, entrepreneurship and trade with the US.

South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) chief executive Christopher Cocker.

South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) chief executive Christopher Cocker. Photo: SPTO

World Tourism Day

World Tourism Day was also celebrated on Monday.

Cocker said the tourism industry is an important lifeline for many Pacific Island nations and territories.

He said tourism was a key economic driver and important enabler of the region's progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),

Cocker said it was equally important to "envision the role which the industry can play to help rebuild the region post-pandemic.

"Having generated a total of $US4 billion in tourism receipts in 2019, accounting for about 7.8 percent of regional Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 2.9 million visitor arrivals (2.2 million air arrivals and 728,091 cruise arrivals)."

"The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has designated 2020 as the Year of Tourism and Rural Development, a most fitting theme to reflect on at this important juncture as tourism stakeholders the world over anticipate the reactivation of tourism."

Cocker said tourism in the Pacific has the potential to continue creating jobs and opportunities to "advance inclusion and growth, alongside environmental and cultural preservation.

"Looking ahead, the long and uncertain road to recovery requires a commitment to co-ordination and cooperation at all levels to ensure the development and benefits of tourism are spread as widely as possible.

"This is to include all segments of society especially rural and vulnerable communities.

"We are a resilient industry and we will come back with renewed strength pos-pandemic.

"Majority of our Pacific Islands are Covid-free and are looking forward to welcoming visitors back when their borders reopen."

But Cocker said the key to survival during these uncertain times is to invest in human capital, innovate, diversify and collaborate to build sustainable futures.